David Morrill Schlitt was a 2010-2011 Yiddish Book Center Fellow. His family originally comes from Lithuania, Romania, and Moldova. They mostly immigrated to the US before World War I.
David grew up in Brookline, MA, with his mother and father, both of whom have been interviewed for the Wexler Oral History Project. Jewish identity was very consciously expressed and transmitted in his household; his parents sent him to a Solomon Schechter Day School, brought him to Workmen's Circle events, and eventually joined a synagogue. His mother participated in Torah study while his father was more of a secularist. David himself brought home from school an interest in Jewish observance and religious participation. His parents also brought liberal/leftist political discussion and action into the home, and that has also informed David's Jewish identity.
Art and culture were priorities for his family. David took art and music classes for years and was influenced deeply by his teachers. His experience at the Schechter school was largely difficult, as he felt unsupported by teachers there. However, his art teacher there was one of the positive forces during those years. He flourished more at Brookline High School, where he felt much more supported and also (ironically) became more engrossed in religious and spiritual matters through independent investigation and study at the extracurricular Prozdor Hebrew School.
David began studying Yiddish at the Yiddish Book Center the summer before he went to college. He went on to study it at Columbia University, at the Vilna summer program, and twice in the YIVO summer program. The language certainly connects him to his grandparents and parents, but he doesn't feel a sense of familial/historical burden about it - it feels lighter than that.
David's current academic work as a PhD student in history at the University of Michigan is about multi-use sports stadiums - not a Jewish studies topic. This was a conscious decision for him, as his earlier work on Jewish labor movements began to feel too heavy, too personal, too interconnected with his own family history. He needed to separate from that a little to remember some of the things that have always interested him independently from his family.
Some of those things include: art, sports, comedy, and some of his politics. "The Simpsons" is one cultural "event" that has influenced David enormously.
To learn more about the Wexler Oral History Project, visit: http://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/tell-your-story